Business & Lobbying

Trump administration hired more than 75 lawyers with ties to agencies they oversee


More than 75 Trump administration lawyers either represented clients in the industries they regulate or had clients with business before the government, according to a report released Thursday by the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen.

The group looked at the background of 127 senior attorneys in the executive branch and found that 76 had connections to their agencies in the private sector. The analysis excluded lawyers from independent agencies like the Federal Communications Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“While the names of government lawyers are rarely in the headlines, they are crucial to the functions of government. They make decision after decision that impacts Americans’ lives,” the report reads. “They decide whether the government will give polluters, scam artists, predatory lenders and other wrongdoers a harsh penalty or an easy pass.”

At the Department of Education, Robert Eitel was named as a special assistant to Secretary Betsy DeVos. Eitel previously worked as a lawyer for Bridgepoint Education, a company that operates for-profit colleges and has come under several government investigations. Eitel has recused himself from matters involving his former employers, including Bridgepoint and Career Education Corporation.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former lawyer and lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, once represented California’s Westlands Water District, the largest water district in the country that was involved in improper payments from the Bureau of Reclamation, according to an inspector general report. The bureau, which disputed those findings, allegedly failed to properly disclose an $84 million project or produce documents explaining why federal contractors did not have to pay back millions in funding.

Bernhardt has pledged for one year to step away from issues involving his former firm or clients.

He has also promised to abide by federal ethics laws that prohibit him from holding “a financial interest in any surface or underground coal mining operation,” among other pledges in his ethics agreement.

Daniel Jorjani, the Interior Department’s principal deputy solicitor, came from groups tied to the billionaire conservative donors Charles and David Koch, who are the majority owners of Koch Industries.

Both Bernhardt and Jorjani served at Interior during the George W. Bush administration.

Jeffrey Bossert Clark, a lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis, helped represent BP in legal matters following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Trump has nominated him to be the assistant attorney general of the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Justice Department.

Since the Senate did not act on Clark’s nomination in the required amount of time, it has been kicked back to the White House. Trump would have to renominate him for the position.

However, the person who currently holds the job at the Justice Department, Jeffrey Wood, has an extensive background in representing energy clients and recused himself from anything that would have a “direct and predictable effect on one or more” of the more than 20 entities he listed on ethics forms.

Wood has also vowed to steer clear of cases involving the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and any matter connected to the Energy Department’s compliance with laws related to disposing nuclear waste, including issues involving the disposal of nuclear material at Yucca mountain.

The revolving door between the private sector and government existed long before Trump, with the Obama administration and other previous administrations appointing officials with ties to the areas they regulated.

Federal ethics laws prohibit someone from working on a specific issue or with a specific client on related business in the private sector, and lawyers will often recuse themselves from working on these matters.

Click here to read the entire report.

Tags Betsy DeVos

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